'll be honest. I've always been a sucker for voice-navigated applications. At the first startup I worked at, two of us were given Macintosh Quadras as development workstations, and we spent more office time the first week playing with the speech recognition engine than actually cutting code. A good voice application (which admittedly the Finder running on the Quadra wasn't!) is a dream to use, freeing users from the traditional ball-and-chain of a keyboard and monitor. Unfortunately, until recently, the tools to build such an application were out of reach of all but a few. The IBM alphaWorks Voice Toolkit preview puts professional tools for developing voice applications in the hands of every developer, through evaluation or professional licenses of the Rational Software Development Platform and WebSphere Studio.
Installation is straightforward, albeit slow, unless you're already running the Rational and WebSphere Studio suites. Your development workstation must be running Windows 2000 or Windows XP, and in addition to downloading the IBM Voice Toolkit, you will need to download evaluation or professional versions of both the Rational and WebSphere suitesa minimal install can span almost two gigabytes. Installing the tool chain is a multi-step process; the download consists of images combined by an extraction program which creates CD images, from which you then install the necessary tool chain and finally the IBM Voice Toolkit. Mercifully, you do not have to burn the CD images to disk first!
What You Can Do with the IBM Voice Toolkit
The toolkit is actually everything you need to get a prototype of a voice application up and running, from a front-end call simulator which lets you emulate incoming calls from a call center, to tools for editing grammar and application flow, all packaged as plug-ins for the Rational Integrated Development environment. Once you finish the prototyping, you can either transition to a production-ready platform using WebSphere Studio and the WebSphere Voice Response system, used to answer incoming calls from users and optionally originate outgoing calls to users.
The actual application development process varies, depending on the kind of voice application you're creating, but relies heavily on your knowledge of VoiceXML and integration with your back-end Web infrastructure using Java and HTTP.